A video of the 7-year-old border collie sitting in front of a coast guard helicopter held the top spot on Reddit this weekend. INSIDER shared another video of Piper on Facebook on February 23, which has been viewed by over 7,887,000 people so far.
Despite the recent fame, Piper and Brian are just happy to be doing the job.
All photography: Brian Edwards
Growing up, Brian was a cat person. He never seemed to click with his friends’ dogs who were always jumping and slobbering on him. Then, almost 6 years ago, he met Piper, and the pair quickly developed a strong bond.
“Piper is a dude. I don’t know how else to say it,” Brian says with a laugh.
Brian has worked at the Cherry Capital Airport since 2008 as the airport operations supervisor. He’d heard about dogs being used for wildlife control, especially at golf courses, and he began to train Piper for the job. A little over a year ago, Piper began volunteering at the airport. “It was one of those 2+2=4 deals. I work at an airport and I have a border collie, why not give it a shot,” Brian says.
The pair typically works from 4:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. In the morning, they start by checking runways, taxiways, the perimeter, outside the fence, and the parking lots for wildlife such as birds, deer, and foxes. During the day, they continue to patrol the taxiway. Part of Brian’s job is to look for irregularities or debris that could cause hazardous conditions, and Piper’s patrol duties integrated into the job naturally.
“Piper is basically on his own during patrol,” Brian says. “He’s very smart. It’s fulfilling to watch him work on his own and problem solve. I can’t express my satisfaction with him, especially since I trained him myself.”
The other half of the job is responding to calls. For example, if there’s a flock of geese, it’s Piper’s job to chase them off. And when they’re not chasing down wildlife, the inseparable pair is training. The video of Piper that went viral was of a training exercise to help him feel comfortable near helicopters by himself.
“I never force Piper to do anything,” Brian says. “Piper has to want to do what de does especially because he’s doing crazy things for dogs.”
Piper is the only Wildlife Control K-9 on staff at an airport in Michigan, and possibly one of less than 10 in the United States. Airport dogs are rare because of the associated costs and difficulty getting insurance, Brian explains. The airport culture also has to tolerate dogs.
“I take a lot of pride in the program,” Brian says. “There isn’t a handbook for this job, and we went into it totally blind. I’m proud of how Piper responded to it.”
During their off time, Brian and Piper spend a lot of time at the beach, hiking, walking in downtown Traverse City, and hanging out at the Little Fleet. “We love meeting people and being members of the community,” Brian says.
If you’re going to be flying into Cherry Capital Airport, let Brian and Piper know and they’ll do their best to come say hi. Get in touch with our favorite Traverse City airport dog here.